The Pub Off: a winner but only by a tummy tickle

6 March 2014

GingerRural and I have now successfully completed both stages of the “Pub Off”.

For those of you who do not yet follow us on Twitter, a “Pub Off” is an invention of mine, based unashamedly on Mary Berry’s Bake Off. However, we are not comparing cakes. We are comparing pubs. I like pubs. I really do. It is worth mentioning at this point that Mary Berry lives fairly close to one of the pubs in the “Pub Off” so I would very much welcome her comments if she should read this.

Alford Arms

Alford Arms

This report on the “Pub Off” is based on various visits that Ginger, Rural and I, together with our respective management teams, have made to two pubs in the Chilterns. The pubs are The Old Queens Head in Penn, and The Alford Arms in Frithsden. Both pubs are in the Chilterns – it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and handsome chaps like Ginger, Rural and I fit right in. To save my paws from too much typing I am going to refer to the Old Queens Head as OQH, and the Alford Arms as AA.

It is no coincidence that these pubs are each only a few miles from two top class shooting grounds: The Old Queens Head is a short drive from EJ Churchill, and the Alford Arms isn’t too far from the ever growing Atkin Grant & Lang. I cannot think of a nicer way to spend a day than some shooting and then some eating and drinking, and then hopefully some more eating and even more drinking, all of which should be done in good company.

I will allow myself to digress slightly but if you should ever visit Atkin Grant & Lang for some tuition then you should insist upon your lesson being with the excellent Charlie Stewart-Wood who is everything a 21st shooting instructor should be. Likewise, if you visit EJ Churchill then I have heard that Mark Marshall is also one of the best.

I like to carefully consider how a pub looks when I approach it. Is it freshly painted? Are the outside areas neat and tidy? Are there dog bowls outside? Are the bowls clean, with fresh water in? I am happy to say that both the OQH and the AA both gave a very good first impression. There were lots of bowls both inside and outside, and the water in them was fresh.

It was also a pleasant surprise to find that both pubs had hampers with rugs in. Personally I think that they are very multi-purpose items and not just for keeping humans warm on chilly days – I could imagine being dried with one when wet, or perhaps “borrowing” one for an amusing game of chase around the pub.

It is also important that there is a good welcome when arriving in the pub. The pub must be clean and neat and tidy. The staff must be welcoming, cheerful and helpful. Special mention must go to Tina at the OQH who always makes time to tickle my tummy.

There must be a good selection of beer and wine. When I say “beer” I mean cask conditioned bitter. I do not mean the more ubiquitous lager. I like pubs that offer a selection of guest beers although I know that some pubs are “encouraged” by breweries and pub companies to only stock certain beers. Although I do not know for sure, I suspect that the OQH is in this situation as they stock only Greene King beer. If this is not the case then please let me know and I will update my review. The Greene King IPA served by the OQH is amongst the best I have tasted.

So, turning now to the food. Our management teams had a storming meal in the OQH. Ginger, Rural and I had to stay under the table so we didn’t get to see much of the food. However, Ginger and I have compared notes subsequently and we believe that the starters included bubble and squeak with black pudding, and a venison scotch egg. There was a main course of a delicious venison stew. There was also bangers and mash, using sausages made from pigs at nearby Stockings Farm in Amersham. I am a great fan of local produce. I am also a great fan of sausages. Judging by the compliments as the food was delivered to the table, and the subsequent silence as it was consumed, I’d say it was delicious. The beer was good too. I know that Rural had a cheeky swig of the IPA and confirmed that it was in absolutely tip top form.

Our visit to the AA was also excellent. Due to ineptitude on the part of my management team, we arrived late and the pub was very, very busy. Ginger had a bowl of Guinness whilst we were waiting. A nice chap then found us a table by the fire. There was bread and roast garlic, all washed down with copious pints of Chiltern Ale. Then there was pork belly for some, and confit duck for others. I hope readers will respect my confidence when I discretely tell them that the excellent Chiltern Ale continued to flow. Ginger, Rural and I like beer. We really do.

I was particularly impressed with the massive jar of free dog treats on the bar at the AA. I reckon one carefully placed swipe with a front paw would send the entire jar to the floor.

Both pubs had open fires, and these were burning logs and gave off a nice healthy warmth. There are flagstones, which are great on a hot day, and rugs, which are great to dry off on when wet, and wooden floors which are just perfect on a cooler day.

So now my friends, it is time for canine adjudication on the Pub Off. From what we have seen, smelt and stolen, there is very little to allow us to differentiate between the OQH and the AA. They are both pubs that are well run and provide excellent food and beer, and a tremendously warm welcome. However, there is one overwhelming factor that has allowed us to make a decision. It is the fact that whenever Ginger, Rural or I visit the OQH we can be sure that we will get at least one tummy tickle from a member of staff and it is for this reason that we are delighted to announce that the Pub Off winner is the OQH. Bravo Tina!


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